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Ryan: The All-Star Race was good but hold your horsepower on using those restrictor plates again

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CONCORD, N.C. – It took 2 minutes for Kyle Busch to climb from his battered No. 18 Toyota and walk roughly a hundred feet to the side door of his team hauler.

The entirety of the trip (with some prompting) was spent pondering what he just witnessed in Saturday night’s All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I’ll have to see it, I guess, to look at it to see if it’s a good show, but (I’m) not a fan,” Busch told NBCSports.com.

Why not?

“When the fastest guy gets out front, he’s supposed to be able to have an opportunity to be fast,” Busch said. “Now when you get the fastest guy out front, he backs up to the rest of the field. So everybody’s always on top of one another, and when you get back in the pack, you can’t pass anybody.

“It’s a restrictor-plate race.”

But with one important caveat: Unlike a plate race, passing the leader (aside from on restarts) seemed extremely difficult Saturday night.

“I was out front, and yeah, those guys couldn’t get by me,” said Busch, who was one of three drivers to lead at least 15 consecutive laps during the 93-lap event. “And I couldn’t pass whoever was in front of me when I finished third in the first stage. So I don’t know that it’s greater.”

Was it greater?

That has been the crux of the fever-pitched debates occurring within the NASCAR industry since the checkered flag fell on one of the more memorable All-Star Races in recent history and (not coincidentally) the Charlotte debut of restrictor plates and aero ducts.

At a 1.5-mile superspeedway whose ultra grippy pavement (despite 12 years of age) produces high speeds without much tire wear, the brand of racing was eye-popping and distinctive. Breakaways by the leader were nonexistent. Dicing for positions within the pack was incessant.

But were things much different at the front?

Harvick took the lead from Kyle Larson on the second-to-last restart and led the final 11 laps. Aside from the last restart, Harvick’s No. 4 Ford hardly was challenged despite virtually the entire top 10 running within just over a second of first.

It was the 10th time in the past 15 All-Star Races that there hasn’t been a lead change in the final 10 laps.

And this was applicable beyond Harvick’s untouchable car, which has been in victory lane for three consecutive race weekends and is the odds-on favorite again Sunday night in the Coca-Cola 600. Busch led for 19 consecutive laps (nearly the entire second stage), and Martin Truex Jr. paced 15 straight circuits in the middle of the third stage.

Virtually all of the passing occurred within a few laps of a restart. When the leader got out front, he wasn’t going to be caught unless there was a mistake – which doesn’t happen often with drivers the caliber of Harvick, Larson and Truex.

That’s why the 0.7-second lead Harvick built toward the end of the first 30-lap segment felt as if it were 7 seconds. The artifice of this rules package is that it can keep the cars more clumped together, but passing the leader remains as challenging as before (perhaps even more so).

Though Larson admitted (reluctantly) to liking the rules package, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver also tempered his praise.

“I don’t love it,” Kyle Larson told NBCSports.com. “I don’t love it. I thought the racing was definitely more exciting than it typically is here at Charlotte. I’d hate for them to get carried away with it and make us run it at every intermediate (track). I still don’t think the runs were quite as big as what we were all hoping for, the pocket of air or the slingshot or whatever you want to call it. We all could stay fairly close together and run off the back bumpers a little bit easier. I feel that made the racing a little bit better.

“Still, once a fast car gets out to the lead, it’s pretty hard to pass if they do a good job maintaining lanes. So, yeah, I don’t know if we can take this package and give it more horsepower, but I think they could tweak on it and make it even better for (Charlotte).”

There were some track executives who were ready to sign up for running the aero package everywhere starting this weekend. That’s understandable given that there’s been a decade-long push within NASCAR to enhance side-by-side action, which definitely was delivered by this combination in its first race.

But some perspective would be wise.

When a low-downforce rules package made its July 11, 2015 debut at Kentucky Speedway, it was a smashing success – and in conditions similar to Saturday night. In both cases, teams had no real-world testing and little chance to prepare beyond simulations and wind tunnels. The efficacy of the lower downforce package in producing nonstop lead changes and passes faded as teams grew acclimated.

Was Saturday something to build on? Of course.

Something to implement immediately at every 1.5-mile oval? Of course not.

The All-Star Race provided the kernel of a concept that could work at other superspeedways in the future, provided there is some tweaking (specifically, at the front of the pack) and probably some major buy-in from teams.

But it isn’t some magic elixir that can be applied like a fresh coat of traction compound to any track seeking a jolt.


There is danger in listening too much to what drivers want, but this package has an element of socialized racing that could have stars rethinking their careers if it becomes widespread.

Though there is some skill in plate racing, and Saturday night didn’t remove all ability from the equation, mastering the modulation of 800 horsepower with limited downforce is what separates the wheat from the chaff in NASCAR’s premier series.

As Kyle Busch said in April and reiterated this past weekend at Charlotte, racing with underpowered cars in deliberately orchestrated clusters isn’t what attracted him to the Cup Series.

“It’s not necessarily what I signed up for to be a race car driver to bring the whole field closer together and have it dictated by some type of a plate race,” Busch said Friday a day before the All-Star Race. “But if that’s what we’re going to have going forward, then I guess I either need to think about how to get really good at it or getting out of it so we’ll see what happens.”

That isn’t some idle threat. Busch’s lack of affection for plate racing is widely known (and also doesn’t make him unique among his peers). NASCAR offers him the best way to make a living racing on a national stage, but “passion” is a primary motivator for being willing to make a daring pass in a corner at 200-plus mph.

If that passion is diminished by what he perceives as a de-emphasis on his all-world skillset, it would be natural for him to look elsewhere.


Now that teams’ armies of engineers have on-track data to crunch, how would the new package look the next time on track?

Maybe a lot like seven years ago at Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway if Team Penske’s hunch is correct. Before realizing it wouldn’t be possible because of handling and speed, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano planned to tandem-draft Saturday night. Keselowski hinted it still could be possible in the future.

If it were to happen, that would present another dilemma for NASCAR, which legislated tandem drafting out of existence because fans were so vehemently opposed to the strategy.


What tracks should be considered next for the package?

The July 14 race at Kentucky Speedway seems the most obvious choice. It’s owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc., whose president and CEO, Marcus Smith, spearheaded the All-Star Race package. Smith told NBCSports.com’s Dustin Long that Kentucky has worked as an R&D-style race weekend in the past (e.g., the low-downforce package in ’15, the Tire Dragon machine in ’16, various traction compound usages).

Other tracks that might be good candidates: Kansas Speedway, Pocono Raceway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Texas Motor Speedway might be trickier since its reconfiguration and repave last year. Kyle Larson said Saturday that the package should be avoided at Chicagoland Speedway. The best way to judge probably would be a detailed debrief between NASCAR, drivers and teams about what was learned Saturday night.

But one absolute non-starter?

Homestead-Miami Speedway. Based on the past four championship finales, there hopefully is a consensus there is nothing “wrong” with that 1.5-mile track.


As of late Monday morning, there apparently weren’t any major overtures by NASCAR or Smith to key members of the Team Owners Council or Race Team Alliance about using the package again.

The charter agreement stipulates that team owners have some say in competition overhauls during the season because they bear the costs that can stretch well into the seven-figure range for the development and retrofitting of their race cars.

The wave of fan enthusiasm from Saturday night likely will make it extremely difficult for owners to parry the momentum of using the rules package again this season, even if it’s a budget-buster for some.

If there is room for compromising, here’s one potential bargain to strike: Tracks that want the rules package this season should agree to direct some of their event revenue to the teams to help defray the costs of the package.


Who is on Alex Bowman’s bad side? Apparently, those who haven’t shown him much respect in his first season with Hendrick Motorsports.

The No. 88 Chevrolet driver made that clear after crashing Saturday night because he refused to lift off the accelerator when challenged by another driver (whom he didn’t name).

“I probably should have lifted because it hurt me more than the guy that ran us like that,” he said. “I’m just frustrated. I feel like these guys have taken advantage of me quite a bit this year, and I’m over lifting for guys. I’m not going to go out of my way to slow myself down to help somebody else out. They would race me the same way I’m just kind of over it.”

Striking the balance between showing deference and being assertive always is difficult for a young driver in a top-tier ride. It might be harder for Bowman because he also is trying to shed the impressions (many likely unfair) that might have been formed by veterans when the 24-year-old drove for a backmarker team in Cup from 2014-15.


Though his pole position was the weekend’s feel-good story, Matt Kenseth didn’t lead a lap Saturday and was a nonfactor after his No. 6 Ford dropped from the top 10 on the eighth lap.

Roush Fenway Racing teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (11th) didn’t fare much better after starting second. “The car drove about the same with this package as it did with the other package and everybody else was just a lot faster,” Stenhouse said. “It was a bummer we couldn’t take that front row start and do something with it. We were kind of a moving roadblock out there.”

While Roush likely didn’t spend as much money and time developing its cars for Saturday’s package as Joe Gibbs Racing or Stewart-Haas Racing probably did, the results are indicative of how much work the team still has to become competitive.

Kyle Larson takes the heat after getting spun by Joey Logano

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CONCORD, N.C. – It wasn’t quite the slam-bang action of a vintage NASCAR All-Star Race, but there was one memorable moment of retaliation Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Racing for a top-five position late in the race, Kyle Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet squeezed Joey Logano’s No. 22 Ford into the wall off Turn 4.

After slapping the concrete, Logano came down the track and tagged Larson’s car in the right rear, causing the event’s final caution as Larson spun through the frontstretch grass.

Larson wasn’t upset, taking the blame after finishing seventh and rebounding from one of only two multicar incidents over the 93-lap event.

“Yeah,” the Chip Ganassi Racing driver told NBCSports.com with a smile when asked if he felt it was payback by Logano. “I didn’t mean to run him into the fence. I was trying to stay clear of him on exit. I got really tight because I tried to carry a lot of throttle through there and just stay in front of him.

“I tried to bail to leave him a lane but kind of shoved him up in the wall. He’s got a fairly short temper. He took it out on me. Thankfully, it’s not a points race or anything like that. I put myself in that spot. Obviously, you don’t want to be crashed on purpose, but I felt like I put myself in that spot a little bit.”

Asked whether the contact was intentional, Logano somewhat demurred but clearly felt Larson deserved the result.

“He fenced me, then I bounced off the wall, then there he was,” Logano said. “After he fenced me, I bounced off. He happened to be there. Probably shouldn’t have fenced me.”

The Team Penske driver hung on for third after the incident, delivering a critical bump to winner Kevin Harvick that helped push him past runner-up Daniel Suarez on the final restart.

“Kevin and I always end up together at superspeedway races, and we did again tonight, which is kind of funny,” he said. “I didn’t have quite a good enough run to go three-wide, and if I did, the bottom lane would have gone by both of us, and there would have been no gain for any of us. We wouldn’t have won anyway.

“My only shot was to push (Harvick) ahead and try to clear (Suarez), which I couldn’t. It was a hard-fought night. You can tell by the right side of my car that it was hard fought. It was crazy.”

In blunt Twitter rant, Kyle Busch riffs on his truck team, trolls and The King

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After tersely assessing the performance of his team and the quality of the racing Friday night, Kyle Busch bluntly stayed on the offensive during a Saturday afternoon Twitter rant.

The owner of Kyle Busch Motorsports finished second to Johnny Sauter in the Camping World Truck Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway after rallying from two penalties to his pit crew for going over the wall too soon.

“Pure talent; that’s about it,” Busch replied when asked about his comeback. “My pit crew did absolutely nothing to help me out tonight. My truck drove like shit, and these splitters are absolutely horrendous. You can’t pass in traffic. You can’t race alongside anybody. You can’t get within five truck lengths of no one.

“But somehow, some way, I was able to get back to the front. Had a blast.”

During an hourlong session on Twitter after Cup practice for Saturday night’s All-Star Race, Busch took on all comers, retweeting both supporters and haters.

He also offered an interesting opinion of what NASCAR without his team in the truck series would mean for the wave of young drivers that reached the Cup Series this season.

Here’s a sampling of the rest:

Podcast: Denny Hamlin on his sitdown with Joe Gibbs about speeding penalties

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Denny Hamlin’s penchant for pushing the accelerator too much in the pits recently earned “a sitdown with the boss.”

On the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, Hamlin said team owner Joe Gibbs recently admonished him for accumulating four speeding penalties through the first 10 races of the season.

“I think he’s offended a little bit when they kind of make jokes on TV about it,” Hamlin said with a laugh about the meeting with Gibbs. “He’s like, ‘This is not a joking matter. This is costing you finishes.’

“It’s amazing we’ve had the finishes we’ve had with the penalties we’ve had. I think if we can just tighten things up a little bit. Honestly, we have not had many mistake-free races this year. I think once I have a race where there’s nothing going on that doesn’t set me to the back of the pack, middle of the race, results are going to show a lot better.”

Hamlin was caught for speeding at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and twice at Talladega Superspeedway. Each penalty occurred on entry to the pits.

The No. 11 Toyota driver said that’s been a consistency in his long history of getting caught for speeding.

“Most of our penalties has been entering the pits,” Hamlin said. “There’s so much data out there, I’m learning from it and trying to get better at it.”

One method for improvement is trying to understand how much reward and risk there is within the system used by drivers to stay under the limit. Cars don’t have speedometers, so a system of lights helps indicate when they are near the limit.

“Being more informed of that extra light, what does that amount to in feet,” Hamlin said. “Tell me is it a car length? Two feet? That will help manage my risk as well.”

To listen to the podcast, click here for Apple Podcasts, here for Spotifyhere for Stitcher, here for Google Play or play the Art19 embed below:

Podcast: Denny Hamlin on his business career past, present and future

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla., — If life as a full-time NASCAR driver hadn’t worked out, Denny Hamlin probably would be selling trailer hitches.

But his family’s business instead sustained the Chesterfield, Virginia, native’s Late Model career, helping secure the breaks to get hired by Joe Gibbs Racing.

Hamlin, 37, has 31 victories through 12-plus seasons in NASCAR’s premier series, and though he plans to race for several more years, he eventually will retire.

What will he be doing then?

Maybe selling trailer hitches.

“I really want to run a day-to-day business,” Hamlin said on the 138th episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast about his post-NASCAR career. “I don’t want to be there at 6 a.m. and open the doors, but I want to be there 9 to 3, checking on things, running things, making sure everyone’s happy.

“I just don’t know what kind it is. It might be a trailer shop. I loved going to work at the trailer shop with my dad when I was 17 years old. I knew everything about the business, I knew how to sell trailers. I knew how to build them. I knew how to install the hitches, do all the wiring. I knew how to do everything in that business. Maybe that’s something I go back to when I’m done.”

Hamlin, who had a brief run as the owner of a Charlotte nightclub, said he will open a new hamburger joint (a Little Big Burger franchise) soon near his home in Cornelius, North Carolina.

From left, Billy Horschel, Shannon Miller, Rosa Santos, Mary Lynn Schroeder and Denny Hamlin after Santos was selected by the panel as the winner of a Junior Business Challenge qualifier (Associated Press).

That made him a qualified candidate to help as a judge last week in sponsor FedEx’s Junior Business Challenge (with Junior Achievement Worldwide). The program, which runs in conjunction with PGA Tour events, relies on a high-profile panel to judge business concepts from a group of JA students with entrepreneurial aspirations. In an event before last weekend’s Players Championship, Hamlin judged entries along with Olympic medal gymnast and PGA golfer Billy Horschel (who joined Hamlin on the podcast).

In his evaluation, the 2016 Daytona 500 winner probably applied some lessons from his teenage years working for his father.

“I’d always complain to him that our business says we close at 5 o’clock, and yet if someone pulls in at 5:02 and needs something fixed on their trailer, if we’re here, we’re working,” he said. “The hours on the door were theoretical. He was all about making the customer happy. I don’t care how long it takes, we’re going to stay here and finish the job.

“If we told someone we get it done on this day, then it’s done. Whatever it takes. People really came back to our business a lot because of my dad and his mentality that they knew we’ll do the job and fix it no matter what the hours were. That hard work was infectious and reminded me that if I ever got back into running a business it would be that type of feeling of going to your buddy’s place to get your stuff fixed, not a business.”

But Hamlin, who signed a multiyear contract extension with JGR before last season, said he doesn’t have a timeline for when he’ll return to regular hours.

“The current contract goes quite a ways, and I probably want to do one more after that,” he said. “As long as I can win races, be competitive and be up front, I don’t know how long I’ll race.

“But I want to be busy outside racing. I’ll be stir crazy. I can only play golf so much. Basketball, my body will only go so long.”

In the podcast, Hamlin also discusses:

–His 2018 season, in which decent speed has been muted by a lack of execution (such as speeding penalties);

–How the professional rhythm of a golfer differs from a race car driver (with Horschel also offering his perspective);

–The return of Matt Kenseth and how JGR has adapted without him;

–What Denny would shoot at TPC Sawgrass.

To listen to the podcast, click here for Apple Podcasts, here for Spotifyhere for Stitcher, here for Google Play or play the Art19 embed below: